Three years ago, the quarterback in the green tie gave a speech that was soon being passed around social-media sites like it was a birthday card for the boss.
Did you see Kirk Cousins’ speech? You need to.
And so you watched. And it was good – quite good. The former Michigan State quarterback, chosen to give the 2011 Big Ten Luncheon Kickoff Speech on behalf of the league's athletes, focused his message around one word: privilege.
It is a privilege to play college football at this level. It’s a privilege to live a dream few realize. Cousins moved to his main point: What do we do with this privilege?
“We could redefine ‘what is cool’ for young people. We could set a new standard for how to treat others," Cousins said. "We could embody what it means to be a person of integrity. We could show to young people that excellence in the classroom is a worthy pursuit. We could show that it's more important to do what is right, than to do what feels right.”
The speech was met with great acclaim, not just in Big Ten circles, but nationally.
A year later, even a rival from Michigan — Denard Robinson — tipped his hat. “I didn't realize how tough it would be to fill Kirk Cousins' shoes until I stepped into the ones he left up here from last year,” said Robinson, who then proceeded to deliver his own humdinger.
It is an annual speech at Big Ten Media Days that has come to matter. It is a speech that, Tuesday, Nebraska’s Ameer Abdullah will have the chance to give.
It seems safe to say the Big Ten could not have picked a better representative than NU's senior running back — the guy who passed on leaving early for the NFL to be the ninth of nine siblings to get his degree, who has not produced a negative off-the-field headline in his time in Lincoln, who received a standing ovation at a Husker basketball game as much for those two things as the 2,977 yards he’s rushed for in his career.
Nebraska fans already know what they think of Abdullah. And anyone who really pays attention to college football probably does, too.
But having the role as a keynote speaker in Chicago can only raise the profile of the Husker running back, something that can't hurt if he’s in the hunt for some individual national awards come the end of November.
Abdullah has a very good story to tell. Now it finds its way to a bigger audience.
The speech has our attention. What else? As we finish up our “14 in ’14” series, here are 13 more questions/topics that we expect to be in the forefront during the two-day event that begins Monday.
* How close is Nebraska's quarterback race? When we left it in the spring, coach Bo Pelini said sophomore Tommy Armstrong had the lead, while Ryker Fyfe and Johnny Stanton were even at No. 2. Now the questions resurface as fall camp begins: How close, or far, is the gap between Armstrong and the others? What are the differentiating factors between the quarterbacks heading into fall camp? How important is it for Pelini to have one guy take command as opposed to last season, when Nebraska rotated between Armstrong and Ron Kellogg III?
* What’s Jim Delany’s big headline? The state-of-the conference addresses usually don’t come without the man at the podium firing an arrow at the NCAA or some other commissioner. Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby let go of his last week when he said: "(NCAA) enforcement is broken. The infractions committee hasn't had a hearing in almost a year, and I think it’s not an understatement to say cheating pays presently. They're in the battle with a BB gun in their hand. They're fighting howitzers. We have to find a way to make progress on it. It undermines the confidence of the system." So what’s Delany, who never shies from expressing his opinion, have to say in the midst of the Ed O’Bannon case and a movement at Big Ten school Northwestern to form a union? What does he say about Maryland and Rutgers and the East Coast presence that is being so heavily pursued by a conference made up of mostly Midwestern schools?
* What’s Pelini's response to the suggestion that defensive end depth is an area of concern heading into fall camp? It’ll be interesting to hear Pelini talk about the various options he has beyond Randy Gregory and Greg McMullen. How much can he use Maliek Collins at D-end? How confident is he about Marcus Newby lining up as a third-down pass rusher? How’s A.J. Natter’s health? What does Joe Keels have to do to be ready come Aug. 30? And what is his early take on new arrivals, such as Peyton Newell, Sedrick King and Mick Stoltenberg? A lot of names to wonder about. And it seems one position where the door could be wide-open for a motivated true freshman to bypass the waiting room and get immediate snaps.
* Will all the gushing about new Penn State coach James Franklin cause a flood in Chicago? You already know who the toast of this media days is going to be. Accept it now: Words piled on words are about to be written about Franklin from any national scribe with a tape recorder. That’s not a good or bad thing. It’s just how it’s going to be. There seems a common belief that if Franklin can win at Vanderbilt, well, it’s just a matter of time that he wins pretty big at a place like Penn State, which is already building a top-10 recruiting class in his first year. Only time will tell, and Franklin might have to answer a few tough questions about his departure from Vandy that has produced some less-than-flattering headlines. But you sense this is the type of stage where a guy like Franklin wins the day. As for flooding at the Hilton? We seriously hope not. Fun fact: That ballroom where coaches talk is also the one that staged the final scene of “The Fugitive” movie. You can’t mess up the carpet at the place where Dr. Richard Kimble cracked the case.
* OK, OK, better shake hands with the new guys. Rutgers and Maryland are at the party whether people around here like it or not. From purely a football perspective, it'll be worth hearing how tough both schools think it'll be making the jump to the Big Ten. Because it will be tough. Nebraska coaches can tell you. And you wonder what Rutgers coach Kyle Flood thinks about a Big Ten schedule that includes consecutive games against Michigan, Ohio State, Nebraska and Wisconsin. Some greeting, huh?
* What about the media poll that has the Huskers third in the West Division? The question will immediately be pushed away by Pelini and Husker players as not mattering at all. And they’ll be right. The media poll is a fun thing, a summer headline that gives a feel of what those in Big Ten country are thinking going into a season. Nothing wrong with making predictions now and seeing how badly you missed come December. But that’s about all it is. If Husker fans are looking for some good vibes, maybe they can find them remembering the last time NU was picked third in the division. That was in 2012, when the Huskers won the division. And the team that was picked third in Nebraska’s Legends Division last year? That was eventual Big Ten champion Michigan State.
* What do the Wisconsin Badgers think about being in Nebraska’s division? Remember, when Nebraska joined the Big Ten, Wisconsin actually made a public push (headed by coach Bret Bielema) to make a rivalry game with the Huskers that might be played the last week of the season. And while this year's game is not the last week of the season, Nebraska and Wisconsin take up space in the same division for the first time. This all seems so … perfect. There’s already the Barry Alvarez-Nebraska connection. But beyond that, the three games between the schools already have produced plenty of emotions. Whether it was Wisconsin’s 70-31 win in the Big Ten title game that rocked the state of Nebraska, or NU’s 30-27, comeback victory at Memorial Stadium, the matchups have provided great drama even in blowouts. So how much are the Badgers looking forward to the Nov. 15 game in Madison, Wis.? Running back Melvin Gordon will be a good one to seek out. He's friends with Ameer Abdullah.
* Injuries? Discipline for summer off-the-field incidents? What does Pelini say about things that occurred since spring ball ended? Are there any injuries that will carry into fall camp? Will there be any punishment for legal situations that arose in recent months? And are there any roster changes? It also could be a chance for Pelini to expound on something such as the departure of defensive end DeAndre Wills, a member of the 2014 class who left campus almost as soon as he arrived.
* What does Pelini think about some of the big-picture items in college football? The coach recently proposed that national signing day should be eliminated, allowing players to sign whenever. His argument is that it would make offers mean a whole lot more. Some coaches, including Arizona's Rich Rodriguez, have said they liked the idea. It's always interesting going to a coach at one of these things and simply asking: If you were in charge of college football for a day, what would you change? Everybody has a wish list.
* Finding the 'fro. It's Kenny Bell's opinions, and not his hair, that should make the senior wide receiver a popular figure during the Tuesday roundtable discussions. Not only is he chasing some major school records, Bell should be good for insight on anything from how the Husker quarterbacks looked in summer drills to his thoughts on friend Kain Colter's pursuit of unionizing at Northwestern to discussions about offseason moves by his Denver Broncos.
* What's Corey Cooper have to say after a spring as a spectator? You didn't hear much about him in the spring because he was sidelined with a turf-toe injury. But he's one of the biggest keys to the Huskers reaching another level this season. A really good Pelini defense requires safeties who know their stuff backward and forward. Cooper should be that guy at this point in his career. He said after the bowl game he's ready to lead as a senior. Now, he gets to come back to his home of Chicago and be a spokesman for the NU defense.
* What are the Spartans going to look like with a bull's-eye on their suits? After going 13-1 and winning the Rose Bowl, it's been an offseason of love heaped upon Michigan State. While the majority are still picking Ohio State to win the Big Ten East, the Spartans will likely be media darlings at this event. Consider that BTN.com recently had one beat writer of each Big Ten program pick an all-conference first team. When the votes were tallied, the Spartans had seven of the 24 players. So, yeah, expectations are high. You wonder how much Mark Dantonio, forever frowning, will like all the pats on the back.
* How boring is Nebraska really, Pat Fitzgerald? We present this question in jest, though it wouldn’t surprise anybody if Northwestern’s coach, always polished and popular at these kinds of events, provides his own take on how his recent zinger about Nebraska was perceived. If you don’t know what we’re talking about, Fitzgerald recently challenged Wildcat fans to own the stands and keep “the red army” from taking over when NU visits Oct. 18. "It’s a pretty boring state, so they’re really excited to see Chicago,” Fitzgerald said, according to the Chicago Tribune. “I talked to the state senator about putting state troopers out on I-80 (to block them).” It was surely nothing more than a banquet joke playing to the pro-Northwestern crowd. And Husker fans were quick to throw some zingers back on social-media sites such as Twitter. The best perhaps came from the popular FauxPelini, who tweeted a picture of Jordan Westerkamp catching the Hail Mary to beat Northwestern. Included with the picture were the words: OOPS YOU FORGOT ABOUT THAT GUY BEHIND YOU. Here’s a bet Fitzgerald brings up the back-and-forth and has a little fun with it. Or, heck, maybe he’ll go all Steve Spurrier and just double down and slam Omaha Steaks or something.